Chuang Tzu counseled us to keep an eye to both the great and the small.
In these days it is a difficult balancing act.
If we look at only the great, we are overwhelmed by the monstrous arrogance and indifference of the man in the White House and the impotence of those who would oppose him while a plague ravages our nation and the world.
If we look only at the small, we become morally myopic and disappear into a world of feel-good stories while the dark waters of cruelty and suffering rise around our ankles.
There must be a balance.
I hate (yes, there’s the word) how this whole situation of death and devastation has become politicized. I can hardly stand to watch the nitwits brandishing guns on capitol steps, bellowing their infantile notions of freedom while old people are dying alone in nursing homes, separated from friends and families in their last moments.
These are cruel times and stupid times, and those of us of good heart can do little about either the cruelty or the stupidity.
And so I would like to offer you this little story from the Oregonian, our local newspaper here in the Portland area. This is who we Americans are as a people. This is who we should be, independent of politics and partisanship.
Read and enjoy.
Maria Ortiz never had seen the ocean. It was one thing she wanted to do before she died. A group of hospice workers and people of good will made it happen.
In simpler times, it would have been a simple request.
But with the novel coronavirus on the loose, times are not simple, even for a dying woman with one wish.
Maria Ortiz is a ward of the state. Her breast cancer is terminal. Her wish was to stand on a beach and for the first time look out at the ocean.
She landed at OHSU Hospital after being abandoned by someone who apparently had no wish to be identified.
She went into end-of-life care April 6 at Porthaven Healthcare Center, which is where the team from Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care came to know her.
Communication is difficult because of the stage of Ortiz’s illness. But some things are expressed without words. Ortiz is good-natured, smiles often and laughs easily.
“Maria touched so many of us because of her story,” says Allyson Snider, executive director at Seasons. “She had no family, no friends.
“Our social worker did a national search with her name, date of birth and Social Security number and literally could not find a single person. So, we became her family.”
The Seasons team had bits and pieces of Ortiz’s back story. She had come to Oregon from Texas more than 20 years ago. She had worked hard until becoming sick, losing her job and her housing.
In all of her 55 years on Earth, she had never seen an ocean, never stood in the sand, sniffed the salt air and watched the tide roll in.
“She had made it known in the course of her previous treatment that was really the one thing she would like to do,” says registered nurse Neal Donohue, Ortiz’s case manager.
“It struck us as a really fantastic opportunity to give something rewarding to her.”
If they could make it happen.
Oregon State Parks are closed. So are beach access points managed by Oregon Parks and Recreation. So are some beaches.
Snider and Donna Lawson-Koci, volunteer services coordinator for Seasons, wore out their phones trying to find a beach they could access legally.
“It wasn’t that they weren’t interested,” Lawson-Koci says. “But it was: ‘I’m sorry, the roads are closed.’ Or, ‘You can’t get access there.’”
And that’s how it stood until they reached Clatsop County manager Don Bohn, who must have figured there is an exception to every rule.
He pointed them to Sunset Beach, just off of U.S. 101 between Seaside and Warrenton. He said they could get a car close to the water there.
Bohn declined an interview request, responding by email: “If it was my daughter, I would do anything in my power to fulfill her wish.”
Now that Ortiz had a beach she could access, she needed a way to get there.
Lawson-Koci reached out to Lucky Limousine & Town Car Service, which is how Ortiz and Donohue wound up in a westbound town car on April 23 piloted by Lucky Limousine general manager Gregg Webber. Lucky basically donated the ride. Seasons dipped into the small fund it has for these things, but the hospice company’s share “was absolutely a pittance,” Lawson-Koci says.
The trip took some coordination.
“Maria is very ill,” Snider says. “We had to make sure she had the medications she needed, the equipment we could use to get her there. Everybody on our staff donated clothing to her – she had been homeless.”
Hospice patient Maria Ortiz was ferried from Portland to the Oregon Coast in a town car. (Seasons Healthcare Management)
Donohue says the trip over the Coast Range was quiet, Ortiz wide-eyed and taking it all in. When they reached Sunset Beach, she spent a long time staring out at the horizon and listening to the waves.
Then, she smiled.
Someday, Ortiz will take her last breath. Because she is indigent with no known next of kin, her body normally would be cremated, the remains stored for a period of time. If left unclaimed, they would be cheaply disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.
That wasn’t good enough for Lawson-Koci. She arranged for free cremation through Threadgill’s Memorial Services.
Then Ortiz’s ashes will be spread on Sunset Beach.